Inaugural lecture by Professor Tom Gilbert: Genomic Windows into the Past – University of Copenhagen

GeoGenetics > News > Inaugural lecture by P...

28 November 2011

Inaugural lecture by Professor Tom Gilbert: Genomic Windows into the Past

The past decade has seen incredible increases in the power of molecular biological techniques, including the ability to rapidly and economically sequence DNA. As a result, research in a range of disciplines including biology, medicine, biotechnology, anthropology and even archaeology, is entering the era of genomics - the study of life at the genome level.

Many of the studies that exploit such information focus on the ‘now and how', for example the sequencing and data-mining of genomes from people with specific genetic linked diseases in order to understand what causes them, why, and whether treatment is possible. In addition however, there is a growing interest in archaeogenomics, the use of such data to understand the past.

Professor Tom GilbertOne such example is phylogenomics, the analysis of genomic data in order to better our understanding of the evolutionary relationships of living (and even extinct) organisms, and in doing so, uncover how organisms originally arose, spread, and adapted to changing environments. Another related discipline is palaeogenomics, the recovery of data from historic, and even ancient, specimens, a technique that yields insights directly into the past.

In this lecture, I will first present a brief history of genomics, including highlighting some of its major achievements today, and discussing some of its limitations. Following this general introduction, I will turn to archaeogenomics, and using examples of both my collaborators' and my own research, using both DNA extracted from modern and ancient samples, demonstrate how genomics has helped us develop insights into questions as diverse as the origin of modern Eurasians, what makes a killer whale, and the secrets of the giant squid.

To conclude I will turn to work in progress, and discuss currently ongoing research projects aimed at investigating questions such as the evolutionary origin and diversification of birds, the genomic changes that underlay the domestication of maize, and whether there was anything special about the pathogen underlying the great Irish potato famine.